Perils of a Newbie Charity Trustee

Posted: 12 February 2015 in Uncategorized
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Newbie Trustee

Tap on the shoulder. That’s how I became a Trustee and Treasurer. I had originally wanted to become a trustee and treasurer of a new cutting edge charity with big vision. I applied and was accepted – but an unexpected build up of work prevented me taking the role. A year later I got the metaphorical “tap on the shoulder” from a friend. And as Trustee and Treasurer, I joined an old charity that was no longer in step with the current needs, and was reputedly cosy and genteel. All the things I didn’t want.

Well things are not what they seem. A sceptical me grilled the CEO, talked to people who knew the charity, looked at the accounts and founding documents, and met the Chair of Trustees and existing Treasurer. Yes, they too wanted to become relevant again. They recognised that would require big changes. However, to make this leap, they wanted people they could trust, people they knew about through personal connections, to help take them to a new strategy, to make a good 19th century vision fit for the 21st century.

The tap on the shoulder is highly vulnerable for like-selecting-like. It can end up as self referential, smug, incestuous. But on one hand, they want trustees who are both capable of steering fundamental change, while on the other hand capable of ensuring the fears of staff and service users are allayed and confidence maintained. You need to know who you are letting on Board.

Try the messianic trustee. I’ve experienced the perils. Are you one of those? Determined to be so leading-edge that the charity becomes bleeding-edge. Like in an earthquake, everything becomes fluid and falls down. Other trustees quake at your energy and unswerving vision. The CEO despairs, resigns or is asked to resign. After the roar and the fury the messianic trustee burn themselves out, after scorching us and become quiet or leaves.

It is said “without a vision, the people perish” – Amen. But I will seek a path somewhere between apocalyptic fervour and unchanging torpor.


This article previously appeared in CFG Finance Focus November 2014

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